In The Shadow of Isandlwana: The Battle For Rorke’s Drift by Adam Johnston
Warning! Review may contain spoilers!
In The Shadow of Isandlwana: The Battle For Rorke’s Drift wins the prize for the longest title we have this year, but is it a good gamebook? In this one we play a British soldier in the Anglo-Zulu war.
The gamebook uses the Fighting Fantasy system, with resolve replacing Luck. Combat is slightly different, because there are guns and you can do insta-kills. At certain points you are told to test your skill in the usual way (can you roll less than your skill score on 2 dice?). It is probably a first that you have to test your skill to avoid falling over a dog, but it is a nice introduction to the system. I rolled a 12, a catastrophic fail, poor dog.
As you are just a private in the army you don’t get that many choices. For a long stretch in the beginning you are railroaded from one paragraph to the next. Only when the chaos of fighting begins you are given some autonomy. When you are given a choice there isn’t much to go on as to which is the correct one. As an example, you can either patrol the north wall or the north-west wall.
I don’t usually enjoy the Fighting Fantasy system, because if you roll a low skill score you’re pretty much doomed before you get started. This one is so intensely combat heavy that you really need to roll well here. There’s a lot of skill checks and lots of combat, but the modifications to the rest of the system are good. Resolve seems to work a lot better than Luck. Battles can end quickly if you get in a headshot. It is just as well – In total I fought fourteen opponents before dying. A quick peek ahead showed there was a least half a dozen more fights before the end. If you really enjoy combat this gamebook will be ideal for you.
Zulus have managed to overrun the walls of the Hospital. Moving fluidly, they are even jumping on top of one another in the determined assault to take over the building. This is clearly a losing battle.
“We need to retreat, but try to slow their progress! Fall back!”
The writing is a bit linear but it is rather good. A lot of the passages reminded me of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe, even though that series dealt with a different era of the British Empire and a different set of wars. The fighting in this book was relentless with not much downtime – which is what you should expect from your camp being invaded by Zulu warriors. But because of this you don’t really get time to reflect or meet any of the other characters. Your commanding officers and fellow soldiers are undeveloped so you never really bond with them. The action is very good though and Adam does well to keep everything at such pace.